There is no denying it – I have a bad case of wanderlust. Always did. Wanderlust is what brought me from my native Germany to Canada right after high school. And wanderlust is part of what will bring me to The Gambia next summer.
I first read the opening lines in John Steinbeck`s Travels with Charley when I was a teen and could relate. Now, as an adult and after reading them many times, they still ring as true as ever. The book begins:
“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship`s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don`t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. “
Steinbeck then goes on to say that: “…the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. “ I couldn`t agree more! I found the perfect excuse to indulge my wanderlust – the destination race.
When I contemplated running my first marathon, I knew it wouldn`t do to run just any marathon. It had to be the New York City Marathon, as it would not just be an exciting race, but also presented an excellent excuse to explore the Big Apple. Sometimes, when you have great expectations and greatly anticipate an event, the reality falls short of the scenes we have played out in our mind. Not so in New York. It was everything I had hoped for and then some! And to boot, I missed qualifying for Boston by only a couple of minutes in my first attempt, so decided I would take another go at it at another exciting race in another fascinating city. Bring on the Berlin Marathon where world records were set and where I could surely qualify to run Boston! Berlin also did not disappoint, both as a race and as an amazing place to explore, and now I was not only hooked on marathon running, but also on destination races. Boston was next on the agenda…
Then something happened that would allow me to completely indulge my marathon and traveling habits: I was asked to coach for a charitable organization that would send its runners to a destination race provided they raised enough funds for the charity. As the coach, I would most certainly have to travel along to support my charges, provide last minute advice and calm first-timers` nerves. Oh, and running the race was also part of the deal. Through this coaching gig, I met countless amazing and inspiring people, many of whom I keep in touch with to this day. And in addition, I got to run marathons in Disney World, where I high fived my favourite Disney character Cruella DeVille during the race; Lausanne, Switzerland, where we visited the incredible Olympic Museum and dreamt of someday carrying the torch into an Olympic stadium; the Flanders Fields Marathon in Belgium, where we learned just how much the sacrifices of our Canadian war vets were appreciated by the people of Belgium and our Canadian team got to lay a wreath during the famous last post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres; the Dublin Marathon, where after a steady diet of Guinness, I ran a personal best that still stands to this day; the Bermuda Marathon, where gale force winds almost blew our plane over during landing … These are just a few of the many excellent adventures I had with my charity team.
Then, in search of a new athletic challenge, I embraced the sport of triathlon for a number of years. This did not interfere with my travel habit, as it took me to places like New Zealand and Hawaii, where I participated in age-group world championships.
My latest excuse for exploring different countries and cultures is ultra running. Thanks to the world`s oldest, biggest and most famous ultra, the Comrades Marathon, I boarded a plane to Africa a few years ago and have since been returning to this beguiling continent annually. The Comrades is hands down my favourite race in the world and after running it three times, I have formed a bond with Comrades runners from around the world that can only be explained to outsiders with great difficulty. One of those friendships will see us travel to Australia in 2013 to celebrate a milestone birthday with a friend and fellow Comrades runner after participating together in one of Australia`s most famous ultras, the Six Foot Track.
Wanderlust and running shoes – a match made in heaven!